Ever wondered why you instantly feel better after exercise? The reason is because exercise releases feel good hormones known as ‘endorphins’ but what are they and how do they work?

Endorphins have been the focus of research since the 70’s and have succeeded in demonstrating the existence of an endorphin driven ‘runner’s high’ after exercise.

The word endorphin comes from ‘endogenous’, meaning from within the body, and ‘morphine’, which is an opiate pain reliever. Endorphins get their name because they are natural pain killers: They reduce pain and boost pleasure resulting in a feeling of wellbeing. Scientifically, Endorphins are brain chemicals which transmit electrical signals in the nervous system in response to stress and pain. Endorphins interact with receptors in the brain to reduce the perception of pain and activate a positive feeling in the body (similar to morphine but without the addiction or dependence!) 

Endorphins, however, do not work on their own. When exercising, the brain releases endorphins alongside other feel good neurotransmitters – serotonin and dopamine. These chemicals work together to make us feel good. Exercise can also give us a sense of accomplishment and helps to relax our muscles easing tension and strain. 

It is said that the largest Endorphin release is triggered by heavy weightlifting or intense aerobic activity. However, endorphin release does vary from person to person. The theory that exercise boosts mood and makes us feel good is therefore true.

Regular exercise is prescribed as a treatment for mild to moderate Depression and Anxiety. A study in the American Journal of Psychiatry, followed more than 22,000 healthy adults who did not have symptoms of anxiety or depression for around 11 years. Researchers concluded that those who reported not exercising at the beginning of the study were 44% more likely to become depressed compared to those who spent 1-2 hours exercising each week. Further research has found that even 1 hour of exercise per week (that’s less than 10 minutes a day) could prevent up to 12 % of depression cases.

Other activities also boost endorphin release in the body: Meditation, laughing, chocolate (this explains why we may crave chocolate during times of stress),  spicy food, acupuncture, massage and even childbirth!

Group exercise gives our endorphins an extra boost. Research in rowing found that rowers who worked as a team had an increased rush of feel-good hormones compared with those who rowed alone. 

So there we have it, Endorphins explained.  Next time you need a boost or are feeling low, try walking, running, dancing, swimming, cycling or even giving birth to boost your Endorphins and bring on that feel good factor!


Brown, D. (2018). What to know about anxiety. Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323454.php

Cohen, E E A, et al. (2009) Rowers’ high: behavioural synchrony is correlated with elevated pain thresholds. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2817271/

Conrad S. (2018). Endorphins: Natural Pain and Stress Fighters. Available at: https://www.medicinenet.com/endorphins_natural_pain_and_stress_fighters/views.htm 

Dalayeun, J F, et al. (1993). Physiology of beta-endorphins. A close-up view and a review of the literature. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7520295

The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. (2018)  Neurotransmission. Available at: http://www.merck.com/mmpe/sec16/ch207/ch207a.html

University of Bonn (2008) . Runners’ High Demonstrated: Brain Imaging Shows Release Of Endorphins In Brain. ScienceDaily. Available at: http://www.sciencedaily.com­/releases/2008/03/080303101110.htm 

Posted by Sarah@Kaido

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